Film Review: NIGHT MOVES (directed by Kelly Reichardt / US premiere at Tribeca Film Festival)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on April 25, 2014

in Film

THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS

Most good actors need some help to be excellent – Nicholas Cage comes to mind, Kevin Spacey, the young Mickey Rourke. And then there are those few who are mesmerizing no matter what they are doing. Jesse Eisenberg is one of these brilliant rarities, fascinating to watch, always present, always living the moment. In Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, scripted by Jon Raymond and Ms. Reichardt, he plays his gloomiest role yet. As Josh, an eco-terrorist who works on a small organic farm, he doesn’t smile once.

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The film begins with Josh and Dena (smartly played by Dakota Fanning) atop a hydroelectric dam in a nature park. In their view the dam is the scourge of the local eco system and represents many of the things radical conservationists like them detest – waste, consumerism, destruction of the environment, industrialization. So they have decided to blow it up. To help them Josh has enlisted Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard in another captivating performance), a former Marine and explosives expert who is perhaps a bit unhinged, living in a beat-up old trailer home in the woods. Of course, as so often happens when destruction is done with good intentions, something goes wrong, and we get to see what these well-meaning young revolutionaries are really like under pressure. Or at least that seems to be the idea.

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Night Moves is textured in heavy pine greens, forest browns and cement grays, which serve well to underscore its mirthless mood. The pace is slow, sometimes too slow, but mostly effective; Ms. Reichardt succeeds in creating the feeling of spiritual and perhaps moral claustrophobia while showing us the beauty of the great outdoors. She does well to document the mundane details of the young trio putting their plan into action – buying the boat, buying the fertilizer, making the explosives, putting the boat in the water, etc – with all the problems and unexpected snags that happen along the way. Her methodical setup to the event becomes hypnotic and feels inspired. And although her protagonists are not exactly likeable (except for Dena), I found myself eager to continue spending time with them.

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What bothers me is that, to my way of thinking, either her ending isn’t set up right or it’s premature; the film feels like it ends in the middle of the story. Without giving anything away, it’s like if, for instance, Crime and Punishment ended when Raskolnikov left the old woman’s apartment after the murder. As inspired and as crisp as the setup is, after the dam is blown it’s as if Ms. Reichardt’s interest wanes. I believe I understand the point she is attempting to make, and she does make it. I just think it could be made better. And as much as I try to see the movie her way I still can’t help feeling unsatisfied – I want to see more.

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photos © Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Night Moves
Cinedigm Entertainment
Maybach Film Productions, RT Features and filmscience
USA – 2013 – Color – 113 min.
US premiere at Tribeca Film Festival
for screening times, visit Tribeca
in limited release on May 30, 2014

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